Sometimes a story comes out which is so sensational it calls for time to carefully study and reflect on the details . And the apparent confession by Nico Rosberg that he crashed into Lewis Hamilton “on purpose”, as it has been reported, is one such story.
If true it would totally undermine Rosberg’s integrity as an F1 driver and as a championship contender. It would devalue his world title if he were to go on and win it – and any future world titles – and would invite some awkward questions from the FIA about his conduct. They have the right to reconvene the stewards if fresh evidence – such as a confession – comes to light after a race, so they will no doubt be keen to find out more about what Rosberg actually said in the meeting.
And given Keke Rosberg’s outspoken attack on Michael Schumacher in Monaco in 2006, where he called him a “cheap cheat” for deliberately crashing his car in qualifying to take pole (although Schumacher never admitted to it, the stewards decided it was deliberate), it would also set him on a collision course with his own father.
So did Rosberg admit to hitting Hamilton “on purpose”, or not?
After the race and following a heated team meeting, Lewis Hamilton told the written press that Rosberg had admitted he did it “on purpose” as he had wanted to ‘make a point” when they crashed on the second lap of the race.
“We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose,” said Hamilton. “He said he could have avoided it, but he didn’t want to. He basically said, ‘I did it to prove a point.’ “
The initial press reports said that a Mercedes spokesman had confirmed that Hamilton’s comments were an accurate reflection of what had been said.
Here lies the confusion. Rosberg did apparently say that he had not backed down “to prove a point”. But this is a very different thing from admitting that he had deliberately crashed into Hamilton; done it “on purpose”, which is a huge and terrible thing to admit and which would invite heavy sanctions.
The only comparable precendent would be the Nelson Piquet Jr admission in 2009 that he had deliberately crashed his car in Singapore on orders from his team management to help his Renault team mate to win a race. This led to temporary bans on Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds.
So did Hamilton interpret Rosberg saying that he kept going to make a point, as an admission that he did it in purpose, or was Rosberg explicit in admitting it was deliberate? If the latter, it was not only out of character for a man who is careful with his words, it was an extremely foolish thing to say as it could only lead to extreme sanctions.
At about the same time as Hamilton’s quotes were circulating, Rosberg – who had declined to comment straight after the race until he had reviewed the incident on video – posted on social media that it was a “racing incident” as far as he was concerned and that the stewards had clearly seen it the same way, by taking no action.
When the media reports claiming Rosberg’s sensational confession began to emerge Toto Wolff clarified the situation, by saying, “Nico felt he needed to hold his line. He needed to make a point and for Lewis it was clearly not him who needed to be aware of Nico. They agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion among ourselves.
“But it wasn’t deliberate crashing. This is nonsense.”
When quizzed further by this website, the Mercedes spokesman who had originally been credited with confirming Rosberg’s words, said that all he had confirmed was that Rosberg had said he wanted to prove a point by continuing with the attempted pass.
He said that he had never confirmed that Rosberg had admitted to crashing into Hamilton “on purpose”.
At a briefing attended by this website, Wolff had earlier spelled out his anger that this accident had happened, calling it an “unacceptable level of risk” and saying that he felt “let down” by Rosberg initiating an incident, which had led to the team losing another win – the second win thrown away in the last three races – and implied that he would be sanctioning Rosberg for this breach of their agreement. “It cannot and will not happen again, “ he said.
He said he would now have to apply firm rules with strict punishments should one of his drivers break those rules. Agreements had been in place between the team and both drivers that they would not get into a situation where one car hit another and Rosberg had violated that by triggering this incident.
But again, this is not to say that Rosberg deliberately crashed into Hamilton. Some pundits have described it as “clumsy” driving by Rosberg and it certainly looked to this observer like he insisted too much in a position where he was unlikely to succeed. Team chairman Niki Lauda told this website that he was especially angry with Rosberg for doing this on lap two of a long race.
The decision by Lauda and Wolff in the immediate aftermath of the race to criticize Rosberg, as well as the boos from some sections of the fans under the podium put Rosberg in a bad light. Hamilton’s comments inflamed this.
The only course of action now is for the team to take control of the situation and issue a clear statement of exactly what Rosberg said in that meeting with regard to “making a point”, clarifying beyond any doubt whether Rosberg admitted to “doing it on purpose”, as Hamilton contends.
This would need to be a statement to which Hamilton and Rosberg also put their names, so that there can be no doubt as to what was said.
Anything less than that will create a vacuum, a space for interpretation, which would be hugely damaging to the team and which could cause more damage to its title charge and its image than any number of collisions between drivers.
There is no doubt that Mercedes are now spooked. The rejuvenated form of Red Bull, particularly its now extremely efficient energy recovery system, the third win for Ricciardo, which brings him to 35 points behind Hamilton in the drivers standings, with seven races to go and with the spectre of double points for the last race have scared the team into thinking they could throw the championship away if they allow any more stupid things to happen.
The idea that this astonishing Mercedes car, which has dominated the first six months of the season, could end up not carrying one of its drivers to the title is unthinkable to Wolff, Lauda and the Daimler board member who got the full blast of Hamilton’s anger as he stepped from the car.
The essence of the matter is this: having lost the start to Hamilton, Rosberg felt he was faster and was determined to repass his team mate. With Hamilton covering the inside line, Rosberg was forced to look outside. He was not far enough alongside to pass into the second part of the chicane as Hamilton took his normal line. Rosberg clearly insisted on the attempt and for that reason they touched with Rosberg’s wing endplate cutting Hamilton’s tyre.
Hamilton now lies 29 points behind Rosberg with seven races to go and double points at the last race. If this is classed as a mistake by Rosberg, rather than a deliberate act, this will be the second time this season he has lost out to a mistake by his team mate, after incident in qualifying at Monaco.